Joe Perry, a Hall of Fame fullback with the San Francisco 49ers who became the first player to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, has died. He was 84.
Perry, nicknamed “the Jet” because of his speed, died Monday in Tempe, Ariz., of complications from dementia, said his wife, Donna. She said Perry had been suffering from dementia for about 10 years and that it was related to his football career.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969 after a 16-season career, 14 with the 49ers and two with the Baltimore Colts. The 49ers were part of the All-America Football Conference in his first two seasons, joining the National Football League in 1950.
He was the 49ers’ first black player, joining the team in 1948 — the year after the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.
“It was tough,” Perry told Football Digest in 2003. “It was harder for me [than it was for Robinson] because in football, there’s so much physical contact. I had to be on guard at all times for something.”
A three-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro, Perry is San Francisco’s all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Eight times he led the 49ers in rushing, including seven consecutive seasons from 1949 to 1955.
Perry finished with 9,723 yards rushing on 1,929 carries, with 71 touchdowns. He also had 2,021 yards receiving on 260 catches, with 12 touchdowns. He broke the NFL record for most career yards rushing, a total later topped by Jim Brown.
He was a member of the “Million Dollar Backfield” featuring four future Hall of Famers: Perry, Hugh McElhenny, John Henry Johnson and Y.A. Tittle. A 6-foot, 200-pound fullback, Perry became the first player with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 1953 and ’54.
Fletcher Joe Perry was born Jan. 22, 1927, in Stephens, Ark., and grew up in Southern California. He graduated from Jordan High School in Los Angeles and played at Compton College.
Perry enlisted in the Navy near the end of World War II and saw action in the Pacific, his wife said. While stationed in Alameda, he was discovered by 49ers tackle John Woudenberg playing running back for a team at the Naval Air Station.
He was traded to Baltimore before the 1961 season and played two years there, returning to San Francisco for his final season in 1963.
In addition to his wife, Perry is survived by son Jon, who lives in Compton; daughters Joanne Frazier of Sacramento, Denise Simmons of Texas and Karen Perry of San Leandro; stepdaughter Gabrielle Vasseur of Mesa, Ariz.; and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.